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MANILA, Philippines - An otherwise humdrum Day 39 of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial ended with an adrenaline rush after the impeached magistrate’s lawyers announced that his much awaited appearance and testimony will finally push through on Tuesday, May 22, signaling that, indeed, the process that began on January 16 had finally reached the end game.
To prepare for the big day, the Chief Justice’s lawyers requested a break on Thursday (May 17) and Monday (May 21) to get their last and key witness ready and to go over the documents on Corona’s purported dollar accounts that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales submitted when she appeared as a hostile defense witness on Monday and Tuesday.
Corona's defense team declared they were “ready to accept the verdict of the Senate Impeachment Court" and hoped that President Benigno Aquino III “is ready, too."
Corona, too, put up a pugnacious front, declaring, "Tuloy ang laban (The fight continues),” continuing to ignore calls for him to resign despite Carpio-Morales’ testimony, which she said was based on information from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, detailing over two days the movement of millions of dollars through the 82 dollar accounts he allegedly maintained.
Many observers, however, said Carpio-Morales’ testimony, notwithstanding the questions raised by a number of senators over legality and her possible overstepping the bound of her authority, was damaging enough that, unless Corona himself convincingly refuted it, it could have sealed his fate.
“That is every damaging. You can ask people from all walks of life, they see the figures. Ah, ganun pala si Chief Justice ang daming pera (Oh, so the Chief Justice keeps lots of money). So, only he can redeem himself from that damaging testimony,” Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada said in an interview.
And as if to underscore the point, media obtained copies from Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of a report submitted to Carpio-Morales by a panel of investigators alleging that Corona had amassed about P677 million in “unexplained wealth” while he occupied various government positions from April 2003 to February 2012.
Belmonte said the Ombudsman had given him a copy of the report on May 11.
A memorandum submitted to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales by the investigators -- Christopher Soguilon, Ferdinand San Joaquin, R Epicurus Charlo Salcedo, Rholie Besoña and Moses Buzmion -- said Corona may have violated the Anti-Money Laundering Law and recommended that the report be submitted to the House of Representatives, Senate and the Anti-Money Laundering Council “for their information and appropriate action.”
“The undersigned investigators respectfully submit that the foregoing findings may involve a violation of Republic Act 9160 (The Anti-Money Laundering Act). In addition, the acquisition of wealth by Subject Corona appears to be grossly disproportionate to his known income as a public officer,” the report said.
The amount of Corona’s alleged unexplained wealth was arrived at by adding all his peso and dollar deposits in various banks over nine years during which the Chief Justice and his wife, Ma. Cristina, had a combined income of only P30.36 million.
“Analyzing the accumulated wealth of Subject Corona for period P2001 to 2010 by using the acquisition value of the acquired real assets, and the bank transactions in comparison to the supposed income earned and known income from 2001 to 2011, it is apparent that subject Corona has acquired wealth that is not commensurate to his known income,” the report said.
“It is also worthy to mention that the daily cost of living commensurate to the social stature of the Subject’s family as well as travels abroad of Subject spouses have not yet been taken into account,” it said. “Thus, if we are to include the same, it would significantly increase the total possible unexplained wealth.”
The panel said Corona failed to answer the allegations despite being given the chance to do so.
On Wednesday, the defense presented three other hostile witnesses -- former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros and Harvey Keh, convenor of the civil society group Kaya Natin, and Emmanuel Tiu Santos -- who were parties to the complaint against Corona on which Carpio-Morales based her investigation into the magistrate’s dollar accounts.
However, since all of them admitted not having personal knowledge about Corona’s accounts except what had earlier been presented as evidence in the impeachment trial, the defense announced that they were dispensing with seven other hostile witnesses they had earlier scheduled for presentation.
It was Keh’s testimony that provided the only real drama of the day, however, when an irate Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered him to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for submitting evidence against Corona whose authenticity he could not ascertain.
Keh’s admission that the documents he gave Enrile were delivered “anonymously” to his office in Barangay Loyola Heights in Quezon City on May 3 earned him a tongue lashing from the Senate president and several other senators, one of whom, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, openly called him a “liar.”
Enrile also blasted Keh for “trying to influence this court” by having media personnel accompany him when he delivered the documents to the Senate President’s office on May 7.
"Why did you bring them (media) along with you? You wanted to be sure that it will be publicized when you deliver this document?” Enrile asked.
“Because of this, I am ordering you to show cause why you should not be cited for contempt by this court. You are trying to influence this court,” he said.
Keh apologized and tried to explain, when asked why he did not hand over the documents to the prosecution in Corona’s impeachment trial or to the Office of the Ombudsman, that he felt Enrile was the right person to hand them over documents to.
He also denied inviting media coverage and was “surprised” to find reporters at Enrile’s office.
"I did not bring a TV crew… I was surprised," he said.
But Estrada confronted him, saying: “When you received the documents, did you call reporters to peddle you story? … You asked for publicity.”
When Keh replied that he was not seeking publicity, Estrada retorted: “Eh, ikaw ang nagbigay sa office ni (You were the one who gave the documents to the) Senate President … you’re trying to present yourself to the Senate President … Sinungaling ka (You’re a liar).”
"What kind of good governance are you trying to promote?” Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago asked Keh. “You act on anonymous complaints. You did not bother to examine for yourselves whether these complaints are fair or not?"
"A person governed by ethics would not do the things you have done, giving those alleged evidence to the Senate President knowing full well that no person is allowed to influence the court, yet you brought with you a TV crew. You’re asking us to ignore the mathematics of probabilities. That is why I’m angry with you. Consider yourself admonished,” she said.
After Corona’s testimony, both the prosecution and the defense will be given time to deliver their respective closing arguments.
Based on the impeachment rules, prosecutors from the House of Representatives will deliver the opening statement to be followed by a response from the defense team, and then a closing statement again by the prosecutors.
But Cuevas appealed to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to allow them to make a rebuttal of the prosecution’s closing statement.
“We will discuss that in caucus,” Enrile replied, explaining this would “be a suspension of our rules.”
Both Cuevas and Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the lead prosecutor, agreed to take up one hour each for their statements.
Both panels can have, at most, two speakers for the closing statement.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said Corona’s testimony next week means the impeachment trial can be wrapped up by the May 31 deadline set by Enrile.
“After Corona’s testimony, if ever, we will buckle down to work, review our trial briefs, the events that transpired, the records and journals, we have to glance back in able to come up with an intelligent decision,” he said.
“Maybe (a) few days of deliberations and review, then we will have our verdict,” he added. (Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Abigail Kwok and Karl John C. Reyes, InterAksyon.com)